People often ask why I live in Germany and I never really know what to say because the reason I came is not the reason I stay. I came because I received a grant from the Fulbright Association to do research I could have done (less well) in the US. I stay because my husband loves his job designing solar thermal power plants, a job he can’t have (not yet anyway) in the USA.
There are other reasons I stay, too. Like the minimum of 28 days of paid vacation each year, plus fourteen holidays, plus unlimited sick days that each company is mandated to offer employees. Or the government-subsidized health insurance (including – yay! – a special fund for artists like me). Though flawed, this health insurance does wonderful things like paying for traditional medicines like massage and acupuncture and sending “mother’s helpers” to homes with newborns for at least eight hours of week (see the French system highlighted in “Sicko” for an idea of how it works here). Though I don’t have kids yet, I really like this idea. Even better, I like that if I elected to, I could stay home for up to three years with each newborn I have without fear of losing my job; that I could be paid 60% of my salary for staying home that first year; that my husband and I could both have 14 weeks of 100% paid maternity leave in that first year and we could take those weeks separately.
These working conditions are so important to me that I don’t mind paying higher taxes than I would in the States. To me, quality of living is so much more important than money.
I love that I can live here without owning a car. That I have a bike lane just for me (and the thousands of other bikers) on every road and bridge and through every park in the city. That if I wanted to, I could hop on a train and end up in nearly any major city on the continent, and get to most places within the country faster than if I were driving.
I like living in a country that makes guns nearly impossible to come by (and most people uninterested in owning any). I also love living somewhere that banned new construction of nuclear power plants and is taking all the remaining ones offline by the year 2020 (though I do disagree with their recent decision to substitute that energy production with coal-fired plants and do wish they’d rethink). One of my favorite things about living in Germany, though, has to be just how politically and environmentally aware the average citizenry is. How much they’ve learned from their history. How they’re okay with keeping their military for mainly peacekeeping (yes, yes, I do know this was a US-instituted and very necessary policy; but imagine if, 60 years ago, the US was told they couldn’t build up their military… would we have been okay with this generations later?).
Now, of course, this is all debatable and subject 100% to my opinion of the country in which I live. It’s not intended as a diatribe against the USA, my home country, and it’s certainly not a rose-colored view of Germany. We do have our faults over here, too. I could seriously do without the anti-immigration rhetoric that politicians are throwing around and I would love love love it if the automakers industry didn’t have so much clout within the parliament that fuel standards can’t be raised. I hate that just outside Cologne there’s a brown-coal pit deep enough to be seen from space and they won’t stop digging.
I’ll be honest. If the next president (hello Dems, are you listening?) of the US offered some of these incentives, I’d be back in a heartbeat. If my husband could keep his dream job in solar and I could be paid to raise my children and we paying taxes that went straight to military instead of education and health insurance and I got a month of paid holidays, of course I’d move back closer to my friends and family.
But nowhere is perfect and as I grow older, I’m learning that much of life is a give and take. Right now, Germany’s giving my husband a really nice job that could help change how we get our energy. And we’re taking every chance to enjoy the European standard of living.